Friday, February 3rd, 2023
Friday, February 3rd, 2023

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Illini West takes title at high school fishing championship

Carlyle, Ill. — Illini West used a monster bag of fish to
leapfrog to the top of the leader board on the final day, posting a
two-day total weight of 30 pounds, 5 ounces to claim the high
school state bass fishing championship title at Carlyle Lake.

“This is my game. I fish tournaments myself, but to have this
thing happen is unreal,” Illini West boat captain Darrin Olin said
after the May 7-8 event. “It’s a neat deal. I’m tickled for the
boys.”

The Chargers were in sixth place after the first day of
competition, catching a five-fish limit weighing 14-2. They changed
tactics on the second day, using different lures and a slower
approach, to catch a five-fish limit of 16-3.

It was the biggest bag of fish on a day that began with frigid
conditions and later, high winds that caused officials to restrict
fishing on one side of the lake.

“We started on the east side of the lake but it got real rough
over there early. We came across about 8 a.m., and the fish were
there big-time,” Olin said. “The boys executed great. They didn’t
miss any fish and that’s what it takes to win this thing.”

Moline finished in second place at 25 pounds, 8 ounces, Hebron
third at 25-6 and Pinckneyville was fourth at 24-13.

Only six of 57 teams failed to catch a fish in the
tournament.

Near winter-like conditions met anglers on the final day as they
left the dock. The cold front that moved through the area the night
before, kicking up gusts of 40 mph and making a mess of things at
the Dam West Marina, dropped temperatures into the low 40s. The
water temperature dropped eight degrees.

Anglers were bundled in every piece of heavy clothing they could
find, from wool caps to insulated rain gear to duck and deer
hunting camouflage overalls.

The high winds gusting to 30 mph across the main body of the
lake caused Illinois High School Association officials to order all
boats off the east side of the lake. They were restricted to only
fish the west side, which offered more protection from the fierce
west winds.

Illini West started out on the east side of the lake, caught two
keepers then left within an hour for the west side. Implementing
advice from local fishing guru Jerry Williams, the Chargers
hunkered down in a shallow cove in Peppenhorst Branch for over four
hours and filled their live well.

“We were fishing a shallow cove that was loaded with bass that
were spawning,” team member Travis Wilson said. “It was a shallow
rocky bank. We fished that for about four hours, making 10 passes,
and only had one other boat come in there all day.”

Wilson caught the biggest bass of the day, a 5-pound, 2-ounce
bruiser. Wilson and teammate Brian Lafferty ditched the crankbaits
they were throwing on Day 1 and used a flipping stick baited with a
black and blue Sweet Beaver, which is a soft plastic jig.

The future of IHSA fishing

This year’s field of 216 teams going into the April 23
sectionals was up 17 from last year, better than IHSA officials
expected given the funding crisis schools face.

Besides, slow growth is actually better, according to Dave
Gannaway, the retiring IHSA executive who has been in charge of the
fishing competition.

“If we gain a whole lot more, we’re going to have to
restructure,” said Gannaway, who expects a cap of 75 teams for the
finale. “Do you have regionals and then sectionals, or how do you
handle the additional boats? Because you can’t just keep adding
sectionals. It’s not easy securing 19 lakes all in one day.”

Carlyle Lake’s three-year deal expires next spring.

Gannaway said he would like to expand the field of state final
qualifiers to include anyone who catches the biggest bass at a
sectional. This year that would have brought an additional five
teams to Carlyle Lake but would also provide a larger benefit.

“Then you would see kids at the sectional fishing clear to the
end knowing one fish could get them to state,” he said.

Ultimately, a decision will be made by the bass fishing advisory
board and by Kurt Gibson, who was recently promoted to associate
executive director and will head up the bass fishing tournament in
place of Gannaway.

Gibson said he doesn’t envision any major changes for next
year’s fishing finals.

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